Aggies scored 21 unanswered points behind banged-up quarterback, dominant defense
For several minutes after a Mountain Region semifinal game on Friday night, one of the biggest parties in Las Vegas took place on the Arbor View football field.
Friends and family engulfed the Aggies, as cameras and recorders converged on the celebration. Amidst all the chaos, Arbor View veteran coach Dan Barnson found his wife for only a brief moment before getting pulled away.
“I just told her, ‘It’s been 12 years, and that one is up there,’” Barnson said.
Barnson’s 103rd victory at Arbor View might go down as both his biggest and most exciting. Arbor View defeated Desert Pines 28-21 in a game loaded with big plays, fortune swings and altogether unbelievable moments.
The Aggies scored 21 unanswered points in just more than five minutes late in the fourth quarter to give themselves a chance at their first-ever region championship and a school-record 12 wins next week against Faith Lutheran.
“I don’t want to say our kids never panicked because there was panic,” Barnson said. “In that situation, you’re going to panic, but we knew the system, believed in our system and decided we’re going to win or lose running what we run, doing what we do.”
Desert Pines senior Jamel Brown largely inflicted the panic. Within a span of 1:04 of game time in the third quarter, the speedy cornerback had two defensive touchdowns that accounted for 117 yards.
First, Brown ripped the ball away from an Arbor View running back and raced 78 yards for a touchdown. On the Aggies’ next possession, five-star junior recruit Darnell Washington batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage, intercepted it and saw Brown coming on a few yards behind him.
Instead of trying to break a tackle and advance the ball himself, Washington pitched it to Brown, who went 41 yards for a touchdown to put Desert Pines up 21-7.
The Arbor View sideline fell silent with several players surely losing confidence. But not senior linebacker and leader J.J. Tuinei.
“Our mentality just switched from stopping them to getting the ball back,” Tuinei said. “Ever since their defense scored, we were like, ‘OK we’ve got to show them up, we’ve got to do our stuff.’”
Defensive heroics would come, but Arbor View’s comeback had to start with its offense. The Aggies went on a 96-yard drive to start the fourth quarter — largely aided by 45 of Desert Pines’ total 154 penalty yards on the night — that nearly stalled out deep in Jaguar’s territory.
Arbor View star running back Kyle Graham had a frustrating night overall with only 55 yards on 24 carries, but converted on a 4th-and-4 from the 8-yard line by an inch that Barnson later cited as a key play.
“Fourth down — called a timeout, came back out and ran our base play and got the first down,” Barnson said. “That’s who we are.”
Graham scored two plays later to cut Desert Pines’ lead to 21-14 with 8:11 to play, and Arbor View’s defense took control from there. Senior linebacker Billy Davis had a tackle-for-loss, and junior defensive end Zavier Alston came up with a sack to force a Jaguars’ three-and-out.
A couple minutes later, senior quarterback Logan Bollinger, whom had missed Arbor View’s last two games with a foot injury and endured a rough night with two interceptions, bruised in an eight-yard rushing touchdown.
Bollinger said the offense and defense began thriving off of each other’s energy, which became readily apparent on Desert Pines’ next possession. Tuinei batted down a pass on first down and then blitzed on third down, forcing Desert Pines quarterback Troy Williamson to fumble.
Tuinei recovered at the 12-yard line. Bollinger scored two plays and 30 seconds later, meaning the same quarterback sneak was used for both the game-tying and game-winning touchdowns.
“He’s not even 100 percent so it shows how much of a captain he is playing on his hurt foot and it shows how strong he is just running through the defense,” Tuinei said. “That was great to see.”
But it wasn’t over. Williamson, who had 290 yards and a touchdown on 8-for-15 passing, regained the electricity he had shown earlier in the night to march Desert Pines right down the field on a two-minute drill.
In one memorable play that could rival the Washington-to-Brown lateral for Desert Pines’ highlight of the night, Williamson weaved in and out of the pocket breaking tackles before finding junior Branden Thomas for a 26-yard third-down completion. That gave the Jaguars first-and-goal from the 4-yard line.
But the Aggies stood strong. Davis helped stuff two of the first three plays, and then hurried Williamson into throwing the ball prematurely on the decisive fourth down from the 2-yard line.
The first player rushing towards Davis to celebrate was Tuinei.
“J.J. and Billy, they go together,” Barnson said. “They feed off of each other, and we feed off of them. You can’t say the name of one without saying the other. They’re pretty special.”
And now Arbor View has a chance to do something special. The Aggies have advanced this far several times in the past, but it’s always set up a meeting with local goliath Bishop Gorman.
That won’t be the case this year because of realignment, as Arbor View gets a second matchup against Faith Lutheran, which should be more competitive considering the Aggies barely bested the Crusaders 10-7 earlier this season.
So don’t fault Barnson for not committing to the Desert Pines win as the biggest in program history. There could be a clearer answer next week.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Bollinger said. “This is the best team I’ve ever played with, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
By Case Keefer LVSUN